August 20, 2023
In the summer of 2022, Pakistan witnessed heavy monsoon rains and catastrophic floods that submerged one-third of the country, affecting 33 million people. Sindh was most affected as 70% of the province (24 districts out of 30) became inundated, 1,700 people were killed and 12.36 million displaced. It took two to three months for the water to recede. Almost a year later, it still present a gloomy picture.
The total loss has been estimated at USD 5.5 billion.
“For the first time ever my family has a concrete house,” says Zamera Ujjan. “We will not be afraid of rains anymore now.”
Among the first ones to get a house constructed by the government, she feels that she is one of the luckiest women in village Ghulam Ujjan, 25 km from Khairpur Mir’s city, where a government survey reveals, that out of 195, 191 houses required reconstruction.
Zamera is one among many whose houses were completely or partially damaged. “Almost 150 houses will be completed by August,” says Zamera, who was forced to spend over a month on the road with her husband Abdul Rasheed, their eight children, and other villagers when the floods hit their native village badly.
“It was a nightmare as all the houses were destroyed,” says Zamera. “I am happy and feel content to see our new house as it is our first house where we feel safe and secure and feel no fear of the disaster.
The builders’ story
The government survey confirms that 2.062 million houses were damaged during the natural disaster.
According to the officials of Sindh People’s Housing Foundation (SPHF), a total of 1.4 million houses were completely damaged.
“This robust housing project for flood affectees is one of the world’s biggest recovery projects,” claims Khalid Mehmood Shaikh, chief executive officer of SPHF, comparing Sindh with Nepal where according to him, 400,000 to 500,000 houses were rebuilt in three to four years after the earthquake.
As estimated and surveyed by different teams, roughly 80 per cent houses that the government plans to reconstruct were ‘katcha’ [mud-huts] previously.
“This new house will protect us from all the disasters,” Zamera says, adding that everyone in the village especially women were glad to have their ‘pakka’ [concrete] houses.
“Reconstruction of houses is still underway because it is not possible to construct two million houses within a few months,” says Shaikh. “Since we have thousands of villages to rebuild, at least 90% houses will take about two years for completion.”
The process of rebuilding a house for a flood affectee is being supervised by five different non-governmental organisations such as the Sindh Rural Support Organisation (SRSO), Health and Nutrition Development Society (HANDS), Sustainable Actions to Access Financial Capital Opportunities (SAFCO), National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) and Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP). Each organisation has been assigned different districts and their primary role is to supervise construction.
The beneficiary will get Rs300,000 in three installments, the first one is Rs75,000 for the base/foundation of the house, while three more installment of Rs75,000, Rs100,000 and Rs25,000 will follow as per the construction process.
The money is transferred to the beneficiaries through their bank account. The final installment of Rs25,000 will be provided to the beneficiary when the house is common completion of the house. The size of a house is standard ― one room of 200 square feet ― while the beneficiary is directly involved in the construction process. “There is no third party involved,” explains Shaikh. “Just the SPHF and the beneficiary. The NGO only supervises the work.”
Approximately, 50,000 new houses are being built in all the flood affected districts of Sindh. “These houses will be disaster resilient,” says Shaikh. “We check the quality and do not compromise on it.”
“In several cases, the beneficiary has no land, as they were using state land,” says Shaikh. Another interesting find has also surfaced in the survey, according to which 53,672 widows lost their houses in the floods last year.
The aftermath continues
Living inconveniently without proper shelter, thousands of flood victims face a number of issues and blame the government for delaying the recovery process. Another 26,000 people who could not wait for government help already started constructing houses on their own. Officials say that financial help from the government may be provided to them, but the matter will be discussed by the cabinet.
Because of dilapidated roads and fragmented, narrow bridges, it takes hours to reach remote villages from small towns. The half-fallen and bent-over electric poles and broken wires on them tell the horrific tale of no power supply to these areas since the floods.
Donated tents, collapsed walls of mud houses and damaged government buildings gloomily stand under Sindh’s skies.
“No one can imagine life after floods unless you have been in it,” commented Mohammad Ali, a young resident of Feroze Khan Chandio village. “Just spend 24 hours here and you will understand the misery my family and relatives have been going through for last 10 months.”
Mohammed Ali’s entire village was displaced. Families were separated from each other until they returned two months after the water receded.
Some villagers could not wait any longer and waded back to their ruined houses in knee-deep, stagnant water. “The wait was too frustrating,” he explained, pointing out that at the time the government agencies were indifferent to their misery. “We were helpless and were being treated like beggars.”
Kamran Ali Chandio agreed with Mohammed Ali. “We were told that all the possible help would be provided, including building of new houses,” says Chandio. “But look at this village. Do you see what the government has given us in last one year? Can anyone imagine what we had lost and how we have been treated?”
Directly exposed to harsh weather, flood victims in affected areas have had to spend days without proper arrangements. “Even animals cannot bear this hot weather,” said Rehmatullah Chandio, another villager. “These tents give us shelter from rain, but almost kill us when the temperature rises. We cannot even sleep in these tents during hot nights.”
“It is hard to live in the tent during the hot day,” says Gulsher Khoso, a resident of Shahdad Khoso village, in taluka Khairpur Nathan Shah. “There were 181 houses in our village and not one house could sustain the pressure of flood water.”
Apparently an international organisation, claim the villagers, has built nine washrooms for the entire village. “Look at the size of the washroom,” a villager pointed out. “It has a 2.5 foot-high wall. Do you think anyone can use it during the day?”
Residents in district Jamshoro and Dadu have also been facing health issues. “Most of our children and women are sick since the floods,” says Khoso. “There is no clean drinking water or proper washrooms and shelter. The villagers usually fetch potable water from the old hand pumps which is major source of water. I do not know about its quality, but it’s relatively clean.”
Men, women and children wander in search of water from one village to another. “If you have hand pump and it’s still functioning you’re a lucky person,” says Khoso.
The environmentalist’s view
According to the environmentalist Javed Hussain, the 2022 floods were devastating, damaged the entire infrastructure and disturbed economic activities across the province. “Both the people and the government were not ready to deal with that level of crisis,” he says. “This is the impact of climate change which people still do not realise.”
Hussain said that agriculture was damaged in almost all districts. “The rural population was badly affected because cotton, the cash crop of Sindh was damaged resulting in economic loss for the growers.”
Hussain’s main focus is on the women growers especially cotton pickers. He estimated that over a million women cotton workers lost their livelihoods, as most of them depend on income generation at this time.
He pointed out that although the government has increased the number of beneficiaries in the Benazir Income Support Programme to compensate for economic loss, a large number of women are still not a part of this scheme.
“The government has initiated construction of two million households and first installment has been released, but the process is slow due to bureaucratic delays,” he says. “Monsoon is here already and the rains may be heavy this year too.”
Hussain said that the Pakistan Disaster Management Authority has called for precautionary measures, but at the local level things need to be in order. “It seems that we have not learnt from our previous experience,” he says.
Inflation rubs salt in the wound
“We are compressed from both sides ― floods and inflation,” says Sajjad Naich, a resident of Mohamamd Yousuf Naich near Khairpur Nathan Shah. “One cannot tackle both these disasters together and we need government intervention.”
Two sides of the coin
While on the other hand, Shaikh says that Sindh is the only province that has vigorously implemented the plan to reconstruct the houses. He added that almost 0.8 million women will be direct beneficiaries of the housing project.
Mohammad Ashraf, a resident of Feroze Khan Chandio village in Khairpur Nathan Shah taluka presented four CNICs to me. He wanted these to be included in the official survey.
I told him that I am a media person, not a government official. “So when will they come to start the process?” he asked.